Welcome to installment #13 of the Chasing Shadows – Making Amends series. For more information or to read the previous scene, head to this page.
The sound of the male’s footsteps pounded behind Kecil. He was right. She shouldn’t be alone in the forest, away from the protection of her clan. It mattered little Gemuk was anything but safe; she trusted the stranger even less.
She put all she had into escaping capture, but her short legs were no match for the stranger’s long strides, and he devoured the distance in no time. Too late she realized her tiger form would have provided more speed. Her last thoughts before strong arms wrapped around her waist were Great Spirit, protect me.
Her feet lifted from the ground. Kicking whatever part of his body her heels met, she refused to let him take her without a fight.
Was this what her mother had felt? Undefined terror? Kecil’s eyes smarted with tears of hopelessness as she dug her claws into his forearm.
He grunted and dropped her. Kecil scrambled to get away, but the leaves slipped under her feet and kept her from standing. It didn’t matter. He was on her in an instant, flattening her to the ground. She screamed.
“Stop fighting!” His palm covered her mouth.
She chomped down, and he snatched his hand away.
“The Great Spirit take you,” he said. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
She tried to push off but all she managed to do was grind her cheek into the dirt.
“Be still,” he breathed into her ear.
“Noooo!” Her refusal was pointless. With his body weighing her down, she couldn’t move if she wanted.
“Ah!” he yelled and lifted off, but still managed to sit on her back. His new position allowed her room to breathe, but she still couldn’t pull free with her legs pinned under his bulk.
Teman screeched as he sailed past and landed on the ground with enough momentum to spin in a full circle. He found his bearings and scurried forward, his hair standing on end.
“I said I won’t hurt you.” Her captor rose and pulled her with him. Before Kecil could put up a fight, he folded her arms to her chest, immobilizing her. “Call your binturong off. I won’t stand by as it attacks me… and I don’t play with food.”
Her heart jumped to her throat. “Teman, stop!”
Though her binturong friend let out a snarl, he didn’t come closer.
“I’m going to set you down, and you’re not going to run,” the stranger said. “I don’t want to hurt you or your friend, but I’ll do what I have to do.”
Kecil swallowed the lump growing in her throat and held back tears which threatened to fall.
His lips grazed her cheek. “Understand?”
Please don’t hurt me, she thought, all the while willing Teman to run.
Her captor gave a little squeeze. “Understand!”
“Yes! Yes!” She nodded so hard her brain thudded in her skull.
“Good.” His hold on her loosened.
Kecil slid down his front until her feet met solid ground. She willed herself not to run as she walked toward her friend. One foot in front of the other, each step a jerky movement. When she reached Teman, the muscles in her legs failed, and she dropped to her knees.
The binturong closed the distance and hopped into her arms.
“It’ll be okay,” she said as she held him close, smoothed down his fur.
“Where’s your clan?”
Kecil jumped at the stranger’s sharp tone. What made her think she could bring her mother’s killer to justice? She couldn’t even protect herself from this threat.
“Your clan,” he said.
Though he walked with silence, she could feel his approach bearing down on her. She fell to the side and faced him. Teman leapt from her grasp and hissed.
“Please.” Kecil wrapped her arms around her friend’s neck. “My clan is north. I just want to continue my journey.”
A curious expression flickered across his face. “About 200 kilofeet?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“I cannot return you to your village.” His arms crossed in front of him, the muscles flexing and revealing his tension.
“There’s a clan south of here. That is where I go.”
The stranger relaxed a little. “I can take you there…”
Despite his hesitation, Kecil was overcome with emotions she had no words for. No one, other than her father, had ever offered her aid. “You will?”
“As long as the penanggalan lurks, I can’t let you wander the rainforest alone.” He held out a hand. “I also cannot take you now.”
The little hope kindling within her died. “I don’t understand.”
“While the penanggalan threat exists, no wehr-tigress is safe. You’ll have to stay close to me until I destroy it.” He beckoned with his fingers. “Now come.”
“No.” She lifted her chin, steeled herself against his gaze.
He frowned, and his eyes, the yellow-orange of a parrots plantain, bore into her. “A lone female is not safe.”
I’ve never been safe. “I have no time to tarry.” My mother’s killer may already be gone.
The stranger smiled even as his eyes hardened. “You will come of your own volition, or I will bring you by force.”
Kecil’s entire being prickled. She stared at him for a long time, trying to discern his motivation. What did it matter to him where she went? Other than to make her miserable, no one had cared in the past.
She wanted nothing more to make a run for it, send Teman into the trees, but she had no doubt in her mind the stranger would follow through with his words. Already he’d bested her twice. Still, neither time had he’d done her harm. Every touch had been calculated to contain her and nothing more.
The stranger took a step toward her, and Teman tensed in her arms.
“I’ll go with you!” she said, not for herself, but for the safety of her friend. In time, she would find a way to escape.
The stranger studied her, the look on his face indiscernible. “I will take you south after I eliminate the demon.”
Tall, lean muscled—he was the epitome of a wehr-tiger in his prime. Kecil could almost believe destroying a penanggalan would be nothing more than an inconvenience to him.